During first period Thursday morning at Hopkinsville High School, 23 students tuned up their guitars. Nick Calcamuggio, or Mr. C for short, played a metronome over the speakers and taught his students to pluck each string of the guitar in time with the beat.

It's a simple exercise in keeping time, but one that wasn't possible before a donation from country music songwriter Brice Long, Pennyrile Electric and Long's Back to Back Foundation.

Recently, the HHS parent group Tiger Connection heard that the popular class didn't have enough guitars for every student. The group contacted Pennyrile Electric because the company is HHS' partner in education for the 2019-20 school year.

Pennyrile Electric Vice President of Member Services and Communications Brent Gilkey recieved the call. Gilkey happened to be sitting with Pennyrile Electric CEO Alan Gates, and the pair at once decided to help the school out.

"Brice (Long) wanted to kick in to help, so we just partnered together," Gilkey said. "We called Music Central and ordered some guitars."

The 15 brand new Fender acoustic guitars came from the local music store and each includes a hardshell case to keep them protected for years to come.

Long, a graduate of Christian County High School, started his Back to Back Foundation with the money from his first No. 1 hit "Nothing on but the radio," sung by Gary Allen in 2004. The first year of the foundation, Long was able to help five families provide Christmas presents to their children.

This year, Long's annual Back to Back concert at the James E. Bruce Convention Center raised enough money to help 50 families.

"The foundation has grown a tremendous amount since we first started it," Long said. "What we've enjoyed being able to do outside of the families that we help … we look for other opportunities for good things to do in the community in Christian, Trigg and Todd."

Long said he has been involved in music since he was a kid, so he knows what having a guitar means to the young mind.

"Probably, what (a guitar) became to me more than anything was a really great friend," he said.

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Long's songs have been recorded by some of the country music greats like Garth Brooks and George Strait.

"The reason that happened was because at your age, I started playing guitar and performing and writing and that kind of thing," Long told the class. "Given the opportunity to give that back to, hopefully, someone here that may go on and be able to do that is a huge blessing for me."

Long told the students he hopes the guitars can light a fire under them to pursue their passions. He said Nashville is full of great singers and songwriters, but to be the best, you have to play with the best.

He said no one ever came to his school when he was in high school and told him that pursuing a career in music was a viable career path.

"I can promise you, standing here today, that there's somebody in this room that's got more talent that I ever had," Long said. "Because I believe that, I think if you want to do something like that … the sky is the limit.

"It's just how hard you want to work for it -- that will depend on you."

Reach Jon Russelburg at 270-887-3241 or jrusselburg@kentuckynewera.com.

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